Quiet, Please

Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure

I’ve always been more sensitive than average to loud noises. Fireworks displays were difficult for me to sit through as a child. Bass-thumping, wall-shaking music unnerves me. So I’m perhaps more aware of how loud our society is and how many people seem to be almost afraid of silence.

Examples are everywhere. I’m mystified by restaurants that blast music when good conversation seems more compatible with a meal out. My own workplace is loud, with heavy equipment, phones ringing, and co-workers calling to each other non-stop. Smart phones beep and buzz wherever we go. It’s hard to understand the value of silence if we never experience it.

Entire books have been written on the subject. George Michelsen Foy’s Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence takes a more empirical approach, examining just how loud our world is and the various sources of that noise. Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise takes a more spiritual approach, arguing that silence is the path to the divine.

Two ducks resting in grass
Silence isn’t just for the birds

How does this relate to creativity? A 2016 essay from Entrepreneur.com references research that connects distraction (noise certainly qualifies as a distraction) with creative output. And this can apply to any creative activity – in fact, any activity at all, as “the capacity to disengage from the outside world when the external environment is sufficiently benign reflects a skill set that is important to almost every human endeavor.” This might seem contradictory to certain creative tasks, composing music, for example. Even music, however, consists not just of a series of notes, but as jazz artist Keith Jarrett reminds us, “Silence is the potential from which music can arise.” The silences in between notes matter as much as the notes themselves.

Many of us associate sitting in silence with meditation, and there is compelling evidence that meditation can be a beneficial life practice. I’m not talking about meditation, however, but a sustained period of silence to dwell in one’s own mental processes and to diminish distractions from creative efforts. If you are unaccustomed to spending time in silence, it can be disconcerting at first. Schedule short periods of quiet thinking time at first and build up to longer intervals.

Clearly, perpetual silence is not possible or desired. As a music lover I’m frequently listening to music as I work. And at some point you will want to savor conversation with others to discuss the new ideas you’re coming up with. So you probably don’t need the Helmfon isolation helmet.  Still, time spent in silence can be a valuable part of your creative practice. You may find it difficult at first. Even that discomfort might be something you can learn from. Keep at it. Patience and persistence – and a little quiet – will be your friends in the long run.

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